Sunday, March 06, 2005

100% for the First Time

“What’s in your wallet?” The commercials for Capital One are a lot of fun to watch. I especially like the ones with actor David Spade demonstrating the art of saying “no” to customers. What a hoot!

But maybe the best question isn’t what’s in your wallet but who’s in your wallet? Or, as Dayana Yochim asks (“Our Credit Crunch,”, 3/2/2005), how much of what’s in your wallet is yours?

Yochim surveys the landscape of America’s debt addiction and offers the following summary: “A long time ago, we were a nation of cash-rich, house-poor people. Then, we became house rich and cash poor. Today, we’re a nation that’s credit dependent and cash broke. That’s right: Broke. Completely bust.”

Yochim’s basis for this assertion is a recent Business Week report which noted that total household debt – including car loans, mortgage, and student loans – topped 100% of disposable income last year for the first time ever (For some perspective, the nation’s debt 20 years ago was about 65% of disposable income).

In our first week of West Houston’s Escape the Debt Trap series, I made three penetrating observations that you no doubt remember vividly because they have dominated your thinking since and are in the process of re-shaping your life:

First, debt always presumes upon the future, and too much debt puts us in the position of master and God in the position of servant, as we in effect declare to him, “I’m counting on you to increase my income, despite whatever other plans you might have had for me.”

There are certainly instances in which we should “step out in faith,” particularly for causes which further God’s work and for endeavors which represent an investment for us that will yield a return later, such as education or an investment opportunity. But much of the consumer debt in America is a result of wanting a fancier lifestyle than we can afford, which is particularly audacious to presume upon God for.

Second, because the average Christian gives about 2-3% of his income to God, and many more times than that to lifestyle indulgences, it is hard not to sense a subtle practice of idolatry, as we first decide what our lifestyle will be, then consider what is left over for God’s work.

Third, as one sociologist observed, “Living within your means today in America is counter-cultural.” In other words, in order to live responsibly you have to be willing to be “strange” and, often, to experience subtle peer pressure to not live differently than “the crowd.”

But of course there is hope, and the rewards are tremendous for those who will embrace this “counter-cultural strangeness” as part of their Christian life. Today I will offer five specific steps as part of an “Escape Plan” from the Debt Trap. No catchy commercial jingles – just solid, powerful steps to finding freedom. – Matt Soper (3/6/05).


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